When you’re a landlord, you want to get along well with your tenants. After all, you’ll interact with them on a regular basis, and you’re trusting them to treat you and your property with respect. You might even want to call them friends, but above all else, this is a business transaction. You need to understand the healthy boundaries and obligations of a tenant-landlord relationship.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. The lines between the landlord and the renter often become blurry and depending on the type of tenant, you might be forced to draw hard lines in the sand.

To avoid entering awkward situations with your tenants, here are some of the ways you can facilitate a healthy relationship with renters. These tips will start you out on the right foot and prevent things from getting messy, regardless of how long the tenants are renting or how much they’re paying.

Be Picky About the Tenants You Choose

Selecting the right kind of renter to live on your property is one of the biggest stepping stones in building a healthy tenant-landlord relationship. That’s why thoroughly screening tenants when they apply is an absolute necessity. It may cost a little to request background checks and other information, but you’ll save a whole lot of money and energy by eliminating untrustworthy candidates with bad histories.

You don’t have to complete the screening process all on your own. There are dozens of online services that will help you conduct criminal searches, evaluate past evictions, analyze finances, and take numerous steps to determine if an applicant is a good fit for your property. Check out some of the top options like Tenant Verification and MySmartMove.

Here are some red flags to watch out for while screening a potential tenant:

  • Have they bounced from place to place, never staying long?
  • Have they been evicted in the past?
  • Do they have a criminal record?
  • Is their credit score low or nonexistent?
  • Have others complained about this person’s rental behavior in the past?

Additionally, it’s a smart idea to interact with your future tenant in-person. How do they present themselves? Do they seem honest and respectful? A first impression can speak volumes about the character of a potential renter.

Tips for Finding the Best Tenants:

  • Make your application detailed - it’s unlikely that irresponsible candidates will take the time to fill everything out.
  • Set a minimum household income - although this sounds harsh, it can help you determine if someone will be able to afford your rent for the months to come.
  • Actually, verify your candidate’s employment - this helps you determine how truthful the candidate is, as well as the state of their financial well-being.

Show Tenants That You’re a Professional

The tenant’s first impression isn’t the only one that matters. Roughly 84 percent of tenants want to meet their landlord before moving in, but only 46 percent actually do. Most renters want to get to know you as much as you want to get to know them!

How you present yourself to applicants can set the tone for the rest of your relationship. If they view you as a respectful, professional landlord, they will likely reciprocate that kind of behavior.

Besides the way you dress and speak, there are other ways to convey professionalism to your tenants. For instance, you can reveal that you have insider knowledge of the surrounding real estate market so that they revere you as an expert. For example, if Seattle property management or Dallas real estate trends are your areas of expertise, make sure your local tenants know that.

The more people believe you’re an experienced landlord, the more they’ll trust your opinions on the property and rental procedures. Who would you trust more: the landlord who has studied the area's trends and knows the latest ways to deal with tenants? Or the landlord who seems to rent out properties as a part-time hobby?

Other Ways to Show Professionalism:

  • Consistently look for ways to improve - the top big rental complexes in the country are always looking for ways to innovate, repair, and generally improve the resident experience.
  • Deliver hand-written thank-you notes and letters of appreciation to residents when applicable.
  • Make security a priority by installing smart locks and other high-tech features - residents will respect you more for doing so.
  • Check things out yourself regularly - even if you have others helping you manage the property, it’s smart for you to maintain your role of authority by examining the landscaping, outside of the building, and areas of concern. Always ask the permission of the tenant before doing so.

Go Over the Lease Agreement in Detail on Day One

The best way to avoid arguments and miscommunication with tenants down the road? Make sure they understand all of the details of their rental agreement on the day they sign it. Not only will tenants appreciate you explaining the contract, but they’ll also be mindful of their assigned responsibilities.

Every rental agreement can vary, depending on what the landlord expects from tenants. That’s why you need to be clear about your expectations from the get-go.

Here are a few things to consider explaining when you go over the lease agreement:

  • Who (tenant or landlord) is responsible for maintenance and landscaping?
  • What does the tenant’s monthly payment cover (pest control, valet trash, rent, etc.)?
  • What are your policies for giving notice before moving?
  • How far in advance can the tenant renew their lease?
  • What are your policies on short-term rentals, like Airbnbs?
  • Are their certain rules tenants need to be aware of?
  • What are your pet policies (and fines for violating them)?

Being straightforward about your lease agreement will leave the very little grey area. This will help you and your tenants start the lease out on good terms.

Listen to Complaints With an Open Mind

Part of being a landlord is dealing with tedious complaints and odd requests. All of your tenants will have problems at some point, and no matter what you think about the situation, you’ll need to handle it respectfully.

Tenants appreciate landlords who listen to their problems and address them quickly. In fact, that’s one of the most common points made in positive reviews of rental properties. If you want to establish a great online presence, you’ll need to get your tenants to brag about your professionalism and willingness to handle problematic situations.

Tips for Encouraging Your Tenants to Voice Concerns:

  • Call to check in every once in awhile - ask if there is anything that can be improved.
  • Create a resident feedback box where people can anonymously drop suggestions if they wish.
  • Every time someone re-signs a lease, meet with them to evaluate their needs and complaints.

Be Precise About How You Communicate

When it comes to maintaining a healthy landlord-tenant relationship, you need to establish clear lines of communication so that there’s no room for miscommunication. How are tenants supposed to report problems? What’s the protocol for emergencies? What about late payments and other notices?

It might seem simple to have chats with tenants as you pass by or to collect money whenever they drop it off, but you need to have a set protocol in place to prevent things from becoming overly complicated. You don’t want things getting lost between a loose string of emails, phone calls, in-person conversations, and snail-mail.

Set up a communication system that’s simple and easy to use. That way, tenants always know how they can contact you and you can keep all of your messages in one place. Apps like Heylandlord allow you to manage multiple properties at one time while still maintaining an intimate relationship with each tenant.

A central communication system will also provide you with a place where you can give tenants important updates. For example, if construction will be happening or the pool will be closed for a few days, you’ll want a place where you can post that information for all tenants to see immediately. This will smoothen out the tenant experience.

In Summary

Balancing your role as a landlord with your tenants' needs and expectations can be challenging. Renters have many demands and can be difficult to keep track of, but the more boundaries and rules you establish at the beginning, the more pleasant your interactions can be.

Take some time to think about the kind of impression you’d like to make on your tenants. You want (and need) them to respect your rules and regulations, but you also want to earn their trust and respect. Channel those desires into every interaction with tenants and you’ll find yourself in a better relationship than if you just act as the tenant’s friend.

About the Author: Eric D. Davis is the Founder of Davis Property Management; we help property managers and potential tenants looking for Seattle Property Management and Maintenance services. We have been the front-runners in providing best-in-class property management services in the Puget Sound area.

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